Jazz 88.3 Blog
One of the premier composers of the last 50+ years, Carla Bley has written music for big bands, choirs, chamber orchestras, and small combos. Her work demonstrates a wide compositional range as well as a healthy sense of humor. Bley’s skills have been in demand even outside of jazz, including performing and recording with Jack Bruce, Robert Wyatt, and Pink Floyd’s drummer Nick Mason.
Bley’s father, Emil Borg, was a church organist and piano teacher—he first introduced her to music when she was three, and she first heard jazz when she was 12. She moved to New York at age 17, working as a cigarette girl at the jazz club Birdland, where she met pianist Paul Bley, whom she married in 1957. Immersed in the city’s jazz scene, she began to write compositions, which Paul Bley and a number of other musicians, such as Art Farmer, Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, and Tony Williams, began to record.
In 1964, with her second husband, trumpeter Michael Mantler, she formed the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra and subsequently founded the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association, an independent record label focusing on more avant-garde forms of jazz, such as Bley’s collaboration with poet Paul Haines on the groundbreaking work Escalator over the Hill.
Bley’s compositions and arrangements reached wider audiences through such recordings as Gary Burton’s A Genuine Tong Funeral, an album dedicated to Bley’s first extended composition, and Charlie Haden’s The Liberation Music Orchestra.
In 1972, Bley and Mantler started a new record label, Watt, on which she has since issued recordings of her work. She also began experimenting outside of jazz, joining Jack Bruce’s band in 1975, writing all the compositions for and performing on Nick Mason’s 1981 album Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports, and recording the soundtrack to the 1985 film Mortelle Randonnée. In 1997, a live production of Escalator over the Hill was staged in Germany, then toured Europe the following year.
Among the awards bestowed upon Bley are a Guggenheim Fellowship for music composition (1972), the German Jazz Trophy "A Life for Jazz" (2009), and honorary doctorates from l’Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail (2012) and the New England Conservatory (2014).
Bley has toured all over the world, including Brazil, Japan, South Korea, and just about everywhere in Europe. She continues to perform and record frequently, both with her own big band and a number of smaller ensembles, notably the Lost Chords (including bassist Steve Swallow, saxophonist Andy Sheppard, and drummer Billy Drummond).
Joanne Brackeen was a child prodigy who at age 11, learned to play the piano in six months by transcribing eight Frankie Carle solos. By 12, she was already performing professionally. Some of her musical constituents at the time were Art Farmer, Dexter Gordon, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Bobby Hutcherson, Scott Lafaro, and Charles Lloyd. Simultaneously, the Los Angeles Conservatory heard of her musicianship and offered her a full scholarship. She attended classes less than one week before deciding the bandstand was more significant.
Brackeen married and moved her family, including four children, to New York in 1965. She began her career there with such luminaries as George Benson, Paul Chambers, Lee Konitz, Sonny Stitt, and Woody Shaw among others. She joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1969, becoming the first and only female member of the group, staying until 1972. Brackeen then performed extensively with Joe Henderson(1972-75) and Stan Getz (1975-77). After leaving Stan Getz' quartet, she emerged as a leader.
Traveling and performing mainly with her own band was a delightful and enriching experience for both Brackeen and her band members, which included Terence Blanchard, Michael Brecker, Ravi Coltrane, Jack DeJohnette, Eddie Gomez, Billy Hart, Horace "El Negro" Hernandez, Branford Marsalis, Cecil McBee, John Patitucci, Chris Potter, and Greg Osby. She has recorded more than two dozen recordings as a leader, which include 100 of her 300 original compositions. She appears on nearly 100 additional recordings.
Sharing her musical knowledge and passing on the tradition have been important parts of Brackeen's career. In addition to teaching at Berklee College of Music and the New School, she has led clinics, master classes, and artistic residencies worldwide.
Berklee College of Music has recognized Brackeen with the following prestigious honors: a Distinguished Professor Award, an Outstanding Achievement in Education Award, and the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Award. Worldwide, she received an Outstanding Educator Award from the International Association for Jazz Education, a Living Legend Award from the International Women in Jazz, and the BNY Mellon Jazz 2014 Living Legacy Award. She also received two National Endowment for the Arts grants for commissions and performances and received a U.S. Department of State sponsorship for a tour of the Middle East and Europe in the mid-1980s. She continues to teach and tour internationally, and to date, she has played in 46 different countries.
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda was an American jazz pianist, organist, harpist, singer, composer, swamini, and the wife of John Coltrane. Turiyasangitananda translates as the Transcendental Lord’s highest song of Bliss.
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1937 to Solon and Annie McLeod, Alice was the fifth of six children. Her interest in music blossomed in early childhood. By the age of nine, she played organ during services at Mount Olive Baptist church.
In the early 60’s she began playing jazz as a professional in Detroit with her own trio and as a duo with vibist Terry Pollard. Alice would collaborate and performed with Kenny Clarke, Kenny Burrell, Ornette Coleman, Pharaoh Sanders, Charlie Haden, Roy Haynes, Jack DeJonette, and Carlos Santana. Many people are unaware that she replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist with the John Coltrane quartet and continued to play and record with the band until John’s death in 1967.
Alice’s interest in gospel, classical, and jazz music led to the creation of her own innovative style. Her talents expressed more fully when she became a solo recording artist. Her proficiency on keyboard, organ, and harp was remarkable. Later her natural musical artistry matured into amazing arrangements and compositions. Her twenty recordings cover a time span from Monastic Trio (1968) to Translinear Light (2004).
Alice and John Coltrane married in 1965. Together they embarked on a deeply spiritual journey of musical exploration and forged a new genre of musical expression. After John’s passing, Alice was left to raise their four small children — Michelle, John Jr., Ravi, and Oran.
Around the late 60’s, Alice entered into a most significant time in her life. As a seeker of spiritual truth, she spent focused time in isolation — fasting, praying, and meditating. In 1970 she met a guru, Swami Satchidananda. She traveled to India, and was divinely called into God's service. Alice dedicated her life to God and came to be known as Turiyasangitananda.
Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda became the Founder and Director of The Vedantic Center in 1975, and later established a spiritual community in the Santa Monica Mountains of Southern California. She would orate discourses and play organ to lead the members in devotional song for Sunday services.
A.C. Turiyasangitananda, known as Swamini to many, left her physical form January 12, 2007.
Over the course of a six-decade career, pianist, bandleader, and composer-arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi has made a unique and vital contribution to the art of big band jazz. Born in Manchuria, where she began playing the piano at age six, Akiyoshi moved back to Japan with her parents at the end of World War II. Her family, enduring the hardships of the period, could not provide her with an instrument, and so, just to touch a piano, she took her first job as a musician, playing in a dance-hall band.
She was not exposed to real jazz until a Japanese record collector introduced her to the work of Teddy Wilson, whose music immediately impressed her. In 1952, pianist Oscar Peterson discovered Akiyoshi while he was on a Jazz at the Philharmonic tour of Japan and recommended that producer Norman Granz record her. Thanks to this opportunity, she came to the United States in 1956 to study at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. She moved to New York in 1959, playing at Birdland, the Village Gate, the Five Spot, and the Half Note; but despite a brief attempt in the 1960s to showcase her talents as a composer and arranger for large ensembles, she did not have the opportunity to form a big band until she moved to Los Angeles in 1972 with her husband, saxophonist/flutist Lew Tabackin. The following year, the couple formed the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra featuring Lew Tabackin. In 1976, the band placed first in the DownBeatCritics' Poll, and Akiyoshi's album Long Yellow Road was named best jazz album of the year by Stereo Review. In the 1970s, Akiyoshi began exploring Japanese themes in her compositions and arrangements, mixing them with the strong jazz base in her music.
In 1982, the couple returned to New York, where Akiyoshi re-formed her band with New York musicians. The band enjoyed a critically successful debut at Carnegie Hall as part of the 1983 Kool Jazz Festival. Akiyoshi has recorded 22 albums to date with the orchestra. Her recording Four Seasons of Morita Village was awarded the 1996 Swing Journal Silver Award, and her big band albums have received 14 Grammy Award nominations. Akiyoshi is the first woman ever to place first in the Best Arranger and Composer category in the DownBeat Readers' Poll.
In 1995, the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra was invited to play in China, and in 1996 Akiyoshi completed her autobiography Life With Jazz, which is now in its fifth printing in Japanese. Among the many honors she has received are the Shijahosho (1999, from the Emperor of Japan); the Japan Foundation Award, Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosetta (2004, from the Emperor of Japan); and the Asahi Award (2005, from the Asahi Shimbun newspaper).
Shirley Horn began leading her own group in the mid-1950s, and in 1960 recorded her first album, Embers and Ashes, which established her reputation as an exceptional and sensitive jazz vocalist. Born in 1934 in Washington, DC, she studied classical piano as a teenager at Howard University's Junior School of Music.
Under the influence of artists such as Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal, she then began a career as a jazz pianist and soon after discovered the great expressive power of her voice. When Miles Davis heard Embers and Ashes, he brought her to New York, where she began opening for him at the Village Vanguard. Soon she was performing in major venues throughout the United States and recording with Quincy Jonesfor the Mercury label.
For some years she spent much of her time in Europe, then took a ten-year hiatus to raise her family in Washington. She continued to appear in and around the DC area, and in the 1980s she returned to the recording studio. The overwhelming critical success of her 1981 appearance at Holland's North Sea Jazz Festival reintroduced revitalized her career, allowing her to take to the road with her trio and record more albums.
Her association with the Verve label, which began in 1987, gave a new showcase to her inimitable style and cemented her reputation as a world-class jazz artist. Six of her more than 20 albums have been nominated for Grammy Awards, and she has collaborated with jazz artists including Hank Jones, Kenny Burrell, Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Buck Hill, Branford Marsalis, and Toots Thielemans.
In 1990, she collaborated with Miles Davis on her critically acclaimed album You Won't Forget Me. Her 1992 recording Here's to Life was that year's top-selling jazz album and earned a Grammy Award for arranger Johnny Mandel. In 1998, Horn paid tribute to her mentor with the brilliant recording I Remember Miles, winning the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance. Health problems in the early 2000s forced her to cut back on her appearances.
Terry Jean Pollard was sought after by none other than John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie.
She was born in Detroit on Aug. 15, 1931. She grew up in the jazz-infused Conant Gardens neighborhood, and first began plucking away on the piano at the age of 3. When her abilities surpassed the challenges of her piano lessons, she would use the money for her lessons to buy ice cream for her friends.
By 14, Pollard was sneaking out of the house at night to play in jazz clubs. And by 16, she'd developed the skills and reputation to play professionally. She thrived during the late 1940s and '50s, performing with up-and-coming local musicians, as well as even bigger names when they came to town. In addition to the giants already name-dropped, Pollard played with Johnny Hill, Yusef Lateef, Emmitt Slay, Billy Mitchell, Dick Garcia, Terry Gibbs, Chet Baker, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, and Duke Ellington.
Pollard first considered a professional career in music when she first was paid to perform. At the commencement ceremony for her nursing school graduation in 1948, the keyboard player for the band didn't show up. Everyone knew of Pollard's reputation, so the band asked her to play with them, and she blew everyone away. She made $15 for the one gig, and realized she could make good money playing jazz, so she decided to take it more seriously. She got a day job working at Hudson's department store, and started playing regularly at local clubs, specifically Baker's Keyboard Lounge, a popular spot for locals like Art Tatum and Gerry Mulligan.
During this period, Pollard recorded with Billy Mitchell, and began collaborating with other local musicians Johnny Hill and the Emmitt Slay Trio. In 1952, she was discovered by vibraphonist Terry Gibbs while playing at Beehive Bar. Gibbs was so mesmerized by Pollard's raw talent that he asked her to join his band on their North American tour. She joined the Terry Gibbs Quartet, on piano and second vibes. They toured for eight years, from 1952-1960, and recorded five albums together. While touring with Gibbs, Pollard was offered a solo recording contract with Bethlehem Records and recorded a self-titled album, released in 1955. Labeled as the Terry Pollard Quintet, it would be her only solo LP.
On Oct. 12, 1956, Pollard made history as one of the first black female jazz artists to appear on NBC's Tonight Starring Steve Allen, the early incarnation of The Tonight Show, when she and Gibbs played "Gibberish" and a rendition of "Now's the Time." They playfully battled each other on the same vibraphone (search YouTube to see it yourself). That same year, Pollard was awarded the prestigious DownBeat magazine New Artist award, and nicknamed "Queen of the vibes."
In 1960, Pollard quit the road — just as she was peaking on a national level — to stay in Detroit, and focus on being a mother. However, as Hosper explains: "The downfall of her career was being mistreated on the road: racial slurs, disrespectful medical treatment, not being able to sit with the audience after performing. The climate of racial adversity during her time really robbed her of a national career."
Pollard was simultaneously so highly recognized and so extremely disrespected that she decided it was not worth sacrificing her time and family.
Pollard was an active player throughout metro Detroit until 1978, when she simultaneously had an aneurysm and a stroke. This left her entire left side paralyzed, preventing her from performing again. In 1979, a tribute concert hosted by Steve Allen was held in her honor. After recovering and laying low in Detroit, Pollard moved to New York in 2000 to live closer to her son. She resided in a nursing home, where she entertained the other residents by playing the piano for them most days.
Actually born with the name Blossom Dearie in the New York Catskills, she began playing piano at an early age and studied classical music before making the switch to jazz while in high school. After graduation, she moved to New York and began appearing with vocal groups like the Blue Flames (attached to Woody Herman) and the Blue Reys (with Alvino Rey). She also played cocktail piano around the city, and moved to Paris in 1952 to form her own group, the Blue Stars of France. Dearie also appeared in a nightclub act with Annie Ross, and made a short, uncredited appearance on King Pleasure's vocalese classic, "Moody's Mood for Love." She recorded an obscure album of piano solos, and in 1954, the Blue Stars hit the national charts with a French version of "Lullaby of Birdland."
After hearing Dearie perform in Paris in 1956, Norman Granz signed her to Verve and she returned to America by the end of the year. Her eponymous debut for Verve featured a set of standards that slanted traditional pop back to its roots in Tin Pan Alley, Broadway, and cabaret. Her focus on intimate readings of standards ("Deed I Do," "Thou Swell") and the relaxed trio setting (bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jo Jones, plus Dearie on piano) drew nods to her cabaret background.
Dearie stuck to her focus on standards and small groups, though her gift for songwriting emerged as well with songs like "Blossom's Blues." She performed in solo settings at supper clubs all over New York, and appeared on the more cultured of the late-'50s New York talk shows. Her husband, flutist Bobby Jaspar, made several appearances on her records, notably 1959's My Gentleman Friend. After a recording break in the early '60s, Blossom Dearie signed to Capitol for one album (1964's May I Come In?), but then recorded sparingly during the rest of the decade.
Finally, in the early '70s, she formed her own Daffodil Records label and began releasing her own work, including 1974's Blossom Dearie Sings and 1976's My New Celebrity Is You. She also performed at Carnegie Hall with Anita O'Day and Joe Williams, billed as the Jazz Singers. She continued to perform and record during the 1980s through to the early 2000s, centered mostly in New York but also a regular attraction in London as well. She retired from playing live in 2006 due to health concerns and died quietly in her Greenwich Village apartment on February 7, 2009.
Jutta Hipp had a strangely brief career, dropping out of music altogether shortly after emigrating to the United States. She studied painting in Germany and played jazz during World War II. When the Soviets took over East Germany, she moved with her family to Munich. Hipp played locally and in 1952, recorded with Hans Koller. She led her own quintet in Frankfurt in 1953-1955 and recorded for several labels, including a session that was later released by Blue Note. Moving to New York in November 1955, Hipp played at the Hickory House for much of the first half of 1956, recording two trio albums for Blue Note. Although originally inspired by Lennie Tristano, she was criticized at the time for being too influenced by Horace Silver; however, a studio album from July 1956 with Zoot Sims finds her showing a fairly original style. Unfortunately, that was her final recording, for Jutta Hipp soon dropped out of music, returned to painting, then worked as a seamstress. She lost contact with the music world to the extent that Blue Note didn’t know where her royalties should be sent until 2000. Three years later, at the age of 78, Jutta Hipp passed away in the Queens apartment where she lived alone.
(Source: Scott Yanow www.bluenote.com)
Blessed with an enormous orchestral capacity at the keyboard, Dorothy Donegan was fluent in several styles of jazz as well as with European classical music. Underrated by some due to her proclivity towards showy flamboyance and her penchant for entertaining an audience, she was nonetheless an exceptional pianist with a rich harmonic sense.
Given her virtuosity, it's no wonder her earliest influence and one of her champions was the peerless master of the piano, Art Tatum. Encouraged by her mother to be a professional musician, Donegan was playing piano for a dollar a night at Chicago's South Side bars when she was only 14. She subsequently attended the Chicago Conservatory, Chicago Music College, and the University of Southern California, where she studied classical piano.
In 1943, Donegan gave a concert at the Orchestra Hall in Chicago, the first African-American performer to do so. This created publicity that led to some work in film (Sensations of 1945) and theater (Star Time). Her playing career was largely centered around nightclub engagements, as Donegan was more comfortable in a live setting than a studio.
In the 1950s, she developed her flamboyant performance style, which at times tended to obscure her extraordinary piano playing, deep sense of swing, and wide-ranging repertoire. She would often spice her performances with uncanny impressions of other pianists and singers, skills that enhanced her abilities as an entertainer.
She spent the bulk of her career performing in trios with bass and drums. Her appearance at the Sheraton Centre Hotel in 1980 broke all previous attendance records. In 1983, she appeared on Marian McPartland's NPR radio program, Piano Jazz. Despite her many years of performing, she didn't appear at the legendary jazz club Village Vanguard in New York City until 1987. The New York Times jazz critic John S. Wilson wrote at the time: "Miss Donegan has never let her show-business surface interfere with her virtuosity or her sensitivity as a pianist. No one since Art Tatum has brought together a flow of running lines, breaks, changes of tempo and key, oblique references and rhythmic intensity as skillfully as Miss Donegan does."
In the early 1990s, her show-stopping appearances on Hank O'Neal's Floating Jazz cruises brought her talents to the attention of another generation of jazz fans. She also lectured at several colleges and universities, including Harvard, Northeastern, and the Manhattan School of Music, and received an honorary doctoral degree from Roosevelt University in 1994. Donegan performed at the White House in 1993 and gave her last major performance at the Fujitsu Concord Jazz Festival in 1997.
(Source: https://www.arts.gov/honors/jazz )
Hazel Scott was born on June 11, 1920, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In 1924, Scott and her parents migrated to Harlem, New York, where Hazel, a musical prodigy, studied classical piano with Paul Wagner, a Juilliard professor. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, her career blossomed as she became a regular performer, earning a weekly salary of $4,000 at New York’s elegant dinner club Café Society. Her husband, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., once fondly referred to her as the “darling of Café Society.”
In 1938, her talent brought her to Broadway, where she performed in the musicals Singing Out the News and, four years later, Priorities of 1942. The 1940s were thrilling years for Scott, with appearances in major Hollywood productions like Something to Shout About, I Dood It, and The Heat’s On in 1943, Broadway Rhythm in 1944, and Rhapsody in Blue in 1945. Scott distinguished herself from other black actors by refusing to play the traditional roles, such as maids and prostitutes, offered by movie executives to black actresses. Instead, Scott made cameo in movies playing the piano.
For a brief moment, Scott was a superstar, but her militancy and racial pride halted her ascent. Her onscreen image of sophistication, intelligence, and dignity inspired African Americans. Although her career faded, Scott’s initial television success paved the way for Billy Daniels, Nat King Cole, Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Oprah Winfrey. Hazel Scott died on October 2, 1981 in New York. She was 61.
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